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by Jacob Ninan
There was a time not too long ago when ‘speaking in tongues’ was the fad. The coming of the charismatic movement brought this to the limelight, and ‘everyone’ irrespective of denomination or doctrinal stand wanted to be ‘in’. There was a lot of excitement with people trying to get the gift somehow or to make up a quick look-alike just to be in the club! There were also demonic counterfeits available for those who wanted to speak in tongues by hook or by crook without being true disciples of Jesus. But as someone said, the presence of counterfeits in the market shows the value of the original. However this ‘fashion’ seems to have died down. It is no more the in thing. But something else seems to have replaced it, bringing along with it great excitement and also, sad to say, extreme confusion. That is the apparent profusion of the gift of prophecy into the church. It is true the Bible says that in the end days ‘sons and daughters will prophesy’ (Acts.2:17). But is it as simple as that, what we are seeing around us?
Who is a prophet, and what is it to prophesy? In simple terms a prophet is one who tells people what God wants to tell them at any point in time. Some people have a limited view that prophets are the ones who tell what is going to happen in future. It may very well be that God tells His people about the future especially so that He can warn them. But God may also speak words of correction, rebuke, judgment, comfort, encouragement or guidance. When a man or woman speaks like this, bringing the words that God wants to tell people in different situations, they are prophets. According to A. W. Tozer, a prophet is one who knows his times and what God is trying to say to the people of his times.
When someone speaks words of prophecy often, people recognise him as a man with a gift of prophecy or as a prophet. Other people may also speak ‘prophetically’ in the exercise of their own gift, whether they are pastors, teachers, evangelists or counsellors, when they bring to people exactly what God wants to tell them. They may not even realise they are prophesying. These are not regular ‘prophets’ by their calling but nevertheless they also fulfil at times the function of a prophet.
Prophecy is such a great gift that Paul exhorts everyone to seek to prophesy (1Cor.14:1). It is such a blessing for people to hear what God has to say. Even when we have the written word of God with us, it is still necessary to hear exactly what God is saying to us at any particular time. Whether it is a preacher in the pulpit or an ‘ordinary’ someone sitting by a sick bed, it is what God has to say that matters. In the context what Paul says is that the one who prophesies speaks for ‘edification and exhortation and consolation’ (v.3), among other things. It is also good to hear about things to come (Jn.16:13), whether they are to prepare us or to tell us about the coming judgment so that we can repent.
One question that some raise is, now that we have the Bible with us, whether we would still need prophecy. We would all agree that it is one thing to know the Bible but quite another thing to know which part of the Bible is to be applied in any given situation and how it is to be applied. That is when we need to be led by God the Holy Spirit on the spot. Another question is whether God would speak to us anything other than what is given in the Bible. We can agree that God would never speak anything that contradicts what He has already written in the Bible, but we should also see that God’s communication with His people is not limited by the confines of the Bible. When the Spirit of God told Philip to go to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts.8:26), or told Paul not to go to Asia but to go to Macedonia at a certain point in time (Acts.16:6-10), they were specific instances of guidance which they could not have received merely by reading the Bible.
But the more important question is whether in the new covenant times when the least of God’s children have a direct access to the Father (Heb.8:11), we would still need prophets to guide or direct us. The fact is that while access to the Father is freely available to all His children, not all live in His presence all the time and keep themselves in communion with Him. That is why we need others to instruct, guide, correct and rebuke with prophetic messages from God (Eph.4:11,12). A parallel situation is that even though we have the Holy Spirit in us we still need teachers to instruct us from the word of God. But we also need to note that a prophet usually confirms what God has been placing on a person’s heart already, as in the case of the Holy Spirit making it known in the church at Antioch about calling Barnabas and Paul for the work to which He had already called them (Acts.13:2). When a ‘prophet’ comes and tells someone to do something which this person has some aversion or hesitation for, that needs to be verified with the Lord because it could be a false prophecy.
However, when we observe what is going on among God’s people what we see is a lot of confusion and falsehood in this area. Many are claiming to be prophets of God and giving ‘the word of the Lord’ for different situations. Some proclaim words to nations, but most are directed at individual believers. Since many believers are scared to question the genuineness of such prophecies because they come with the words, “God told me,” they even go ahead and do things that are obviously wrong. Using this phrase, these so-called prophets force others to do what they want, or justify whatever they themselves do. People who do not have a real relationship with the Lord, those who have not been properly born again and those who have not even read the Bible fully are out there ‘prophesying’ with full abandon, and multitudes of gullible people are accepting what they say. It looks as if any Tom, Dick and Harry are free to don the cap of prophets without any fear and let loose a stream of ‘prophecies’.
The incredible thing is that even when their prophecies do not get fulfilled, very few dare to question them. If we were still under the Mosaic Law, they would have been stoned to death. But it is not only that we do not stone them, but we do not even expose them or ostracise them. A wrong interpretation of ‘Touch not the Lord’s anointed’ seals people’s mouths on occasions like this, when they should be speaking out.
In case the ‘prophet’ ‘confirms’ his authority with signs and wonders, then people are so awe-struck that they would swallow anything he says. Even the old covenant people had more sense. They were told that if a prophet promised them signs and it happened as he said, they were still not to follow him if he led them towards other gods (Deut.13:1-3). The equivalent under the new covenant would be to reject so-called prophets if they tell us things that are contrary to the Bible. Once we take that position we do not have to live in fear of these prophets and submit to their words without question. It is possible that all of us know of tragic examples where people were misled by false prophets and practically ruined their lives.
Most of the time the prophets in the Bible were warning people about impending judgment and warning people to turn back to God. There are a few these days who are doing that, even though some seem to have gone to an extreme, seeing danger around every corner. But in general, most of these ‘prophets’ of today seem to say things that people like to hear, that everything will go well with them, that God will solve all their problems, or that a miracle is just ahead of them. God has warned about such people who speak of peace when there is no peace and who cover up the real issues with false promises (Ezek.13:9,10). The punishment for these prophets is surely coming. But what about the miseries they cause innocent people?
Jesus has told us in advance that in the last days there would be false prophets, false teachers and false signs and wonders (Matt.24:24). Yet we do not seem to take care and check them out. While on one hand we are not to despise prophecies, we are also to test them to see whether they are from the Lord, before we believe them (1Thess.5:20,21).
On the other hand, if we are to be prophetic in our ministries, whatever ministry we do, we are to stand in the presence of the Lord, walk before Him and learn from Him. “But if they had stood in My council, Then they would have announced My words to My people, And would have turned them back from their evil way and from the evil of their deeds” (Jer.23:22). Then we can hear from Him and pass it on to those around us.
-- Editorial in the Light of Life magazine, September 2015
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